Sunday, September 30, 2018

George Washington: Farmer - A Farmer's Amusements

George Washington as Farmer by Junius Brutus Stearns. 1851

George Washington: Farmer  
Paul Leland Haworth (1876-1936) 
Ch 14 A Farmer's Amusements

Horse Racing, Shooting, Fishing, & Hunting...

There is abundant evidence that George Washington enjoyed horse racing. In September, 1768, he mentions going "to a Purse race at Accotinck," a hamlet a few miles below Mount Vernon where a race track was maintained. In 1772 he attended the Annapolis races, being a guest of the Governor of Maryland, & he repeated the trip in 1773. In the following May he went to a race & barbecue at Johnson's Ferry. George Washington Custis tells us that the Farmer kept blooded horses & that his colt "Magnolia" once ran for a purse, presumably losing, as if the event had been otherwise we should probably have been informed of the fact. In 1786 Washington went to Alexandria "to see the Jockey Club purse run for," & I have noticed a few other references to races, but I conclude that he went less often than some writers would have us believe.

Washington was decidedly an outdoor man. Being six feet two inches tall, & slender rather than heavily made, he was well fitted for athletic sports. Tradition says that he once threw a stone across the Rappahannock at a spot where no other man could do it, & that he could outjump any one in Virginia. He also excelled in the game of putting the bar, as a story related by the artist Peale bears witness.

Of outdoor sports he seems to have enjoyed hunting most. He probably had many unrecorded experiences with deer & turkeys when a surveyor & when in command upon the western border, but his main hunting adventure after big game took place on his trip to the Ohio in 1770. Though the party was on the move most of the time & was looking for rich land rather than for wild animals, they nevertheless took some hunts.

On October twenty-second, in descending the stretch of the Ohio near the mouth of Little Beaver Creek & above the Mingo Town, they saw many wild geese & several kinds of duck & "killed five wild turkeys." Three days later they "saw innumerable quantities of turkeys, & many deer watering & browsing on the shore side, some of which we killed."

He does not say whether they shot this game from the canoe or not, but probably on sighting the game they would put to shore & then one or more would steal up on the quarry. Their success was probably increased by the fact that they had two Indians with them.

Few people are aware of the fact that what is now West Virginia & Ohio then contained many buffaloes. Below the mouth of the Great Hockhocking the voyagers came upon a camp of Indians, the chief of which, an old friend who had accompanied him to warn out the French in 1753, gave Washington "a quarter of very fine buffalo." A creek near the camp, according to the Indians, was an especial resort for these great beasts.

Fourteen miles up the Great Kanawha the travelers took a day off & "went a hunting; killed five buffaloes & wounded some others, three deer, &c. This country abounds in buffaloes & wild game of all kinds; as also in all kinds of wild fowls, there being in the bottoms a great many small grassy ponds, or lakes, which are full of swans, geese, & ducks of different kinds."

How many of the buffaloes fell to his gun Washington does not record, but it is safe to assume that he had at least some shots at them. And beyond question he helped to devour the delicious buffalo humps, these being, with the flesh of the bighorn sheep, the ne plus ultra of American big game delicacies.

The region in which these events took place was also notable for its big trees. Near the mouth of the Kanawha they "met with a sycamore about sixty yards from the river of a most extraordinary size, it measuring, three feet from the ground, forty-five feet round [almost fifteen feet through], lacking two inches; & not fifty yards from it was another, thirty-one feet round."

When at home, Washington now & then took a gun & went out after ducks, "hairs," wild turkeys & other game, & occasionally he records fair bags of mallards, teal, bald faces & "blew wings," one of the best being that of February 18, 1768, when he "went a ducking between breakfast & dinner & killed 2 mallards & 5 bald faces." It is doubtful whether he was at all an expert shot. In fact, he much preferred chasing the fox with dogs to hunting with a gun.

Fox hunting in the Virginia of that day was a widely followed sport. It was brought over from England & perhaps its greatest devotee was old Lord Fairfax, with whom Washington hunted when still in his teens. Fairfax, whose seat was at Greenway Court in the Shenandoah Valley, was so passionately fond of it that if foxes were scarce near his home he would go to a locality where they were plentiful, would establish himself at an inn & would keep open house & welcome every person of good character & respectable appearance who cared to join him.

The following are some typical entries from Washington's Where & how my time is Spent: "Jany. 1st. (1768) Fox huntg. in my own Neck with Mr. Robt. Alexander & Mr. Colville--catchd nothing--Captn. Posey with us." There were many similar failures & no successes in the next six weeks, but on February twelfth he records joyfully, "Catchd two foxes," & on the thirteenth "catch 2 more foxes." March 2, 1768, "Hunting again, & catchd a fox with a bobd Tail & cut Ears, after 7 hours chase in wch. most of the dogs were worsted." March twenty-ninth, "Fox Hunting with Jacky Custis & Ld. [Lund] Washington--Catchd a fox after 3 hrs. chase." November twenty-second, "Went a fox huntg. with Lord Fairfax & Colo. Fairfax & my Br. Catchd 2 Foxes." For two weeks thereafter they hunted almost every day with varying success. September 30, 1769, he records: "catchd a Rakoon."

On January 27, 1770, the dogs ran a deer out of the Neck & some of them did not get home till next day. The finding of a deer was no uncommon experience, but on no occasion does the chase seem to have been successful, as, when hard pressed, the fugitive would take to the water where the dogs could not follow. January 4, 1772, the hunters "found both a Bear & a Fox but got neither."

Bear & deer were still fairly plentiful in the region, & the fact serves to indicate that the country was not yet thickly settled, nor is it to this day.

In November, 1771, Washington & Jack Custis went to Colonel Mason's at Gunston Hall, a few miles below Mount Vernon, to engage in a grand deer drive in which many men & dogs took part. Mason had an estate of ten thousand acres which was favorably located for such a purpose, being nearly surrounded by water, with peninsulas on which the game could be cornered & forced to take to the river. On the first day they killed two deer, but on the second they killed nothing. No doubt they had a hilarious time of it, dogs baying, horsemen dashing here & there shouting at the top of their voices, & with plenty of fat venison & other good cheer at the Hall that night.

Washington's most remarkable hunting experience occurred on the twenty-third of January, 1770, when he records: "Went a hunting after breakfast & found a Fox at Muddy hole & killed her (it being a Bitch) after a chase of better than two hours & after treeing her twice the last of which times she fell dead out of the Tree after being therein sevl. minutes apparently well." Lest he may be accused of nature faking, it should be explained that the tree was a leaning tree. Occasionally the foxes also took refuge in hollow trees, up which they could climb.

The day usually ended by all the hunters riding to Mount Vernon, Belvoir, Gunston Hall, or some other mansion for a bountiful dinner. Mighty then were the gastronomic feats performed, & over the Madeira the incidents of the day were discussed as Nimrods in all ages are wont to do.

Being so much interested in fox hunting, our Farmer proceeded, with his usual painstaking care, to build up a pack of hounds. The year 1768 was probably the period of his greatest interest in the subject & his diary is full of accounts of the animals. Hounds were now, in fact, his hobby, succeeding in interest his horses. He did his best to breed according to scientific principles, but several entries show that the dogs themselves were inclined blissfully to ignore the laws of eugenics as applied to hounds.

Among his dogs in this period were "Mopsey," "Taster," "Tipler," "Cloe," "Lady," "Forester" & "Captain." August 6, 1768, we learn that "Lady" has four puppies, which are to be called "Vulcan," "Searcher," "Rover," & "Sweetlips."

Like all dog owners he had other troubles with his pets. Once we find him anointing all the hounds that had the mange "with Hogs Lard & Brimstone." Again his pack is menaced by a suspected mad dog, which he shoots.

The Revolution broke rudely in upon the Farmer's sports, but upon his return to Mount Vernon he soon took up the old life. Knowing his bent, Lafayette sent him a pack of French hounds, two dogs & three bitches, & Washington took much interest in them. According to George Washington Custis they were enormous brutes, better built for grappling stags or boars than chasing foxes, & so fierce that a huntsman had to preside at their meals. Their kennel stood a hundred yards south of the old family vault, & Washington visited them every morning & evening. According to Custis, it was the Farmer's desire to have them so evenly matched & trained that if one leading dog should lose the scent, another would be at hand to recover it & thus in full cry you might cover the pack with a blanket.

The biggest of the French hounds, "Vulcan," was so vast that he was often ridden by Master Custis & he seems to have been a rather privileged character. Once when company was expected to dinner Mrs. Washington ordered that a lordly ham should be cooked & served. At dinner she noticed that the ham was not in its place & inquiry developed that "Vulcan" had raided the kitchen & made off with the meat. Thereupon, of course, the mistress scolded & equally, of course, the master smiled & gleefully told the news to the guests.

Billy Lee, the colored valet who had followed the General through the Revolution, usually acted as huntsman and, mounted on "Chinkling" or some other good steed, with a French horn at his back, strove hard to keep the pack in sight, no easy task among the rough timber-covered hills of Fairfax County.

On a hunting day the Farmer breakfasted by candlelight, generally upon corn cakes & milk, & at daybreak, with his guests, Billy & the hounds, sallied forth to find a fox. Washington always rode a good horse & sometimes wore a blue coat, scarlet waistcoat, buckskin breeches, top boots & velvet cap & carried a whip with a long thong. When a fox was started none rode more gallantly or cheered more joyously than did he & as a rule he was in at the death, for, as Jefferson asserts, he was "the best horseman of his age, & the most magnificent figure that could be seen on horseback."

The fox that was generally hunted was the gray fox, which was indigenous to the country. After the Revolution the red fox began to be seen occasionally. They are supposed to have come from the Eastern Shore, & to have crossed Chesapeake Bay on the ice in the hard winter of 1779-80. Custis tells of a famous black fox that would go ten or twenty miles before the hounds & return to the starting-point ready for another run next day. After many unsuccessful chases Billy recommended that the black reynard be let alone, saying he was near akin to another sable & wily character. Thereafter the huntsman was always careful to throw off the hounds when he suspected that they were on the trail of the black fox...

The French hounds were, at least at first, rather indifferent hunters. "Went out after Breakfast with my hounds from France, & two which were lent me, yesterday, by Mr. Mason," says the Farmer the day of the first trial; "found a Fox which was run tolerably well by two of the Frh. Bitches & one of Mason's Dogs--the other French dogs shewed but little disposition to follow--and with the second Dog of Mason's got upon another Fox which was followed slow & indifferently by some & not at all by the rest until the sent became so cold it cd. not be followed at all."

Two days later the dogs failed again & the next time they ran two foxes & caught neither, but their master thought they performed better than hitherto, December 12th:

"After an early breakfast [my nephew] George Washington, Mr. Shaw & Myself went into the Woods back of the Muddy hole Plantation a hunting & were joined by Mr. Lund Washington & Mr. William Peake. About half after ten O'clock (being first plagued with the Dogs running Hogs) we found a fox near Colo Masons Plantation on little Hunting Creek (West fork) having followed on his Drag more than half a Mile; & run him with Eight Dogs (the other 4 getting, as was supposed after a Second Fox) close & well for an hour. When the Dogs came to a fault & to cold Hunting until 20 minutes after when being joined by the missing Dogs they put him up afresh & in about 50 Minutes killed up in an open field of Colo Mason's every Rider & every Dog being present at the Death."

Eight days later the pack chased two foxes, but caught neither. The next hunt is described as follows:  "Went a Fox hunting with the Gentlemen who came here yesterday with Ferdinando Washington & Mr. Shaw, after a very early breakfast.--found a Fox just back of Muddy hole Plantation & after a Chase for an hour & a quarter with my Dogs, & eight couple of Doctor Smiths (brought by Mr. Phil Alexander) we put him into a hollow tree, in which we fastened him, & in the Pincushion put up another Fox which, in an hour & 13 Minutes was killed--We then after allowing the Fox in the hole half an hour put the Dogs upon his Trail & in half a Mile he took to another hollow tree & was again put out of it but he did not go 600 yards before he had recourse to the same shift--finding therefore that he was a conquered Fox we took the Dogs off, & came home to dinner..."

Washington went out with Major George A. Washington & others on that day, but found nothing, & that he took still another hunt in January, 1788, & chased a fox that had been captured the previous month. This, however, is the last reference that I have discovered...

Later he acquired a pair of "tarriers" & took enough interest in them to write detailed instructions concerning them in 1796.

Washington's fishing was mostly done with a seine as a commercial proposition, but he seems to have had a mild interest in angling. Occasionally he took trips up & down the Potomac in order to fish, sometimes with a hook & line, at other times with seines & nets. He & Doctor Craik took fishing tackle with them on both their western tours & made use of it in some of the mountain streams & also in the Ohio. While at the Federal Convention in 1787 he & Gouverneur Morris went up to Valley Forge partly perhaps to see the old camp, but ostensibly to fish for trout. They lodged at the home of a widow named Moore. On the trip the Farmer learned the Pennsylvania way of raising buckwheat and, it must be confessed, wrote down much more about this topic than about trout. A few days later, with Gouverneur Morris & Mr. & Mrs. Robert Morris, he went up to Trenton & "in the evening fished," with what success he does not relate. When on his eastern tour of 1789 he went outside the harbor of Portsmouth to fish for cod, but the tide was unfavorable & they caught only two. More fortunate was a trip off Sandy Hook the next year, which was thus described by a newspaper:
"Yesterday afternoon the President of the United States returned from Sandy Hook & the fishing banks, where he had been for the benefit of the sea air, & to amuse himself in the delightful recreation of fishing. We are told he has had excellent sport, having himself caught a great number of sea-bass & black fish--the weather proved remarkably fine, which, together with the salubrity of the air & wholesome exercise, rendered this little voyage extremely agreeable."

Our Farmer was extremely fond of fish as an article of diet & took great pains to have them on his table frequently. At Mount Vernon there was an ancient black man, reputed to be a centenarian & the son of an African King, whose duty it was to keep the household supplied with fish. On many a morning he could be seen out on the river in his skiff, beguiling the toothsome perch, bass or rock-fish. Not infrequently he would fall asleep & then the impatient cook, who had orders to have dinner strictly upon the hour, would be compelled to seek the shore & roar at him. Old Jack would waken & upon rowing to shore would inquire angrily: "What you all mek such a debbil of a racket for hey? I wa'nt asleep, only noddin'."

Another colored factotum about the place was known as Tom Davis, whose duty it was to supply the Mansion House with game. With the aid of his old British musket & of his Newfoundland dog "Gunner" he secured many a canvasback & mallard, to say nothing of quails, turkeys & other game.

After the Revolution Washington formed a deer park below the hill on which the Mansion House stands. The park contained about one hundred acres & was surrounded by a high paling about sixteen hundred yards long. At first he had only Virginia deer, but later acquired some English fallow deer from the park of Governor Ogle of Maryland. Both varieties herded together, but never mixed blood. The deer were continually getting out & in February, 1786, one returned with a broken leg, "supposed to be by a shot." Seven years later an English buck that had broken out weeks before was killed by some one. The paddock fence was neglected & ultimately the deer ran half wild over the estate, but in general stayed in the wooded region surrounding the Mansion House. The gardener frequently complained of damage done by them to shrubs & plants, & Washington said he hardly knew "whether to give up the Shrubs or the Deer!" The spring before his death we find him writing to the brothers Chickesters warning them to cease hunting his deer & he hints that he may come to "the disagreeable necessity of resorting to other means..."

Excerpts from From:  George Washington: Farmer  Paul Leland Haworth (1876-1936) Ch 14 A Farmer's Amusements

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Plants in Early American Gardens - Small Yellow Foxglove

 Small Yellow Foxglove (Digitalis lutea)

Small Yellow Foxglove (Digitalis lutea)

This charming, self-seeding perennial bears pale yellow tubular flowers in late spring. Small Yellow Foxglove, native to the Mediterranean region, has been cultivated since the 16th century in Britain and was established in American gardens by 1800. Deer-resistant and attractive to hummingbirds, it was recommended by American garden writer Joseph Breck in his book, The Flower Garden (1851).

For more information & the possible availability
Contact The Tho Jefferson Center for Historic Plants or The Shop at Monticello 

Friday, September 28, 2018

18C American Garden Diaries

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Thaddeus Kosciuszko


Thomas Jefferson was the quintessential record keeper. He kept account books and both a Garden and Farm Book throughout his adult life. Although he died just a mile from the place of his birth, Jefferson traveled extensively and often made careful notes on the gardens he visited in this country and abroad. Through the sheer volume of his writings, Jefferson documented hundreds of vegetables, fruits, and flowers, and we find his plant references in letters, drawings, and memoranda to his workers, family, and friends. Record-keeping was as much his passion as music, reading, architecture, and gardening.

Jefferson's records, however, do not stand alone in his time. Other important and useful garden diaries, such as those belonging to Lady Skipwith and Maryland clock-maker William Faris, have survived in tact. The highly educated Jean Skipwith left remarkable lists of flowers that she grew in southern Virginia between 1785 and 1805. At the age of forty, she became the second wife of Sir Peyton Skipwith and they settled in the rolling countryside of Mecklenburg County. There they built a large Georgian-style house named Prestwould, after the Skipwith family seat in England. Jean Skipwith was a skilled gardener and she possessed an astute knowledge of botanical Latin. The libraries at Monticello and Prestwould both contained copies of Philip Miller's eighth edition of the Gardener's Dictionary, 1768, and Lady Skipwith often cited this botanical tome. Skipwith's floral documents, as described by Ann Leighton in her classic American Gardens in the Eighteenth Century "For Use or for Delight," were either left on the backs of old bills or neatly recorded in lists with such titles as "bulbs to be got when I can ..." and "Wildflowers in the Garden."

William Faris' diary reveals a middle-class American gardener of this period. Similar to Lady Skipwith, William Faris' plant lists span the years between 1792 and 1804, the last twelve years of his life. Historian Barbara Sarudy's recent book, Gardens and Gardening in the Chesapeake, 1700-1805, gives us a wonderful portrayal of his late 18th-century residential garden. According to Sarudy, the ornamental beds Faris created in Annapolis were akin in design, if not grandeur, to the more elegant geometric gardens that Chesapeake gentry were busy building about the same time. She describes an artisan who, in his spare time, grew thousands of tulips, narcissus, and other bulbs, selecting and breeding them in his modest 366' by 200' lot. In the spring of 1804, he counted 2,339 tulips in his garden, some named after statesmen such as President Washington and Madison, which he invited his neighbors to view. Visitors would mark varieties they fancied with a coded stick, and Faris would dig them in June for the neighbors to purchase.

Many of the plants that Jefferson, Skipwith, and Faris grew in common were reflective of current floral styles and availability. Tulips figured prominently in early American gardens long after the Dutch "tulipomania" of the 1600s. But, another common "root" of the Colonial Period was the tuberose, Polianthes tuberosa. In 1736, when Peter Collinson sent Williamsburg's John Custis roots of tuberose, Custis replied that they were already common in Virginia and that he need not send any more. This tender Mexican rhizome was especially prized for its heavy, sweet scent. Although the tuberose requires digging and storing over winter in colder climates, it still was planted by Jefferson, Skipwith, and Faris. Jefferson succeeded also with the double-flowered form, which he received from McMahon in 1807 and brought to flower at Monticello August 12th.

The Yellow Autumn Crocus or Winter Daffodil (Sternbergia lutea), a hardy southern European amaryllis, occurs on Lady Skipwith's list, and is a bulb John Custis described in the 1730s as the "Autumn Narciss with yellow Crocus-like flower." Elizabeth Lawrence, a Southern garden writer of the 20th century, noted in her book The Little Bulbs that "They have bloomed in Virginia gardens for many generations, and according to tradition grew in the Palace Gardens at Williamsburg in colonial times."

Like tulips, roses are another dominating class of heirloom flowers, and the gallica roses are considered among the most ancient. Jefferson ordered a number of distinct varieties from the William Prince Nursery of Flushing, New York in 1791, including Rosa Mundi (Rosa gallica versicolor). This sport of the Apothecary Rose is probably the oldest and best known of the striped roses, with petals vividly streaked light crimson and splashed with palest pink to white. Many legends surround this rose; the most romantic, but as yet unconfirmed, being that it was named for Fair Rosamund, mistress of Henry II in the 12th century. The variegated Rosa Mundi is likely what Jean Skipwith called her Marble Rose, which Bernard McMahon listed as a variant of the Rosa Mundi.

Mallows and hibiscus (formerly known also as ketmias) remain a confusing group in early garden literature. When Jean Skipwith included "Crimson Mallow" in her list of "Plants" she was likely referring to Great Red Hibiscus, Hibiscus coccineus, a magnificent, bright red-flowering perennial native to the coastal swamps of Georgia and Florida (but hardy to Philadelphia). The Great Red Hibiscus grows to eight feet in a single season. According to Ann Leighton, it was also cultivated by George Washington at Mount Vernon. Jefferson's "Scarlet Mallow," however, specifically referred to "Scarlet-flowered Pentapetes,"the seeds of which he received from Bernard McMahon and planted in his flower border in 1811. Pentapetes phoenicia is a handsome annual of the Old World Tropics with brownish-green stems and scarlet, mallow-like blossoms that open at noon and close at dawn. It is rarely cultivated in America today.

Jefferson grew relatively few houseplants, yet both he and Faris mentioned the scarlet, single-flowered Geranium (Pelargonium inquinans), a South African species and parent of our modern hybrids. It was first introduced into America in the late 18th century and is immortalized in Rembrandt Peale's famous 1801 portrait of his brother Rubens holding a potted geranium. President Jefferson kept a plant in the President's House and, upon his retirement from his second term, gave his rather neglected geranium to Washington socialite Margaret Bayard Smith. The "Rose Geraniums" mentioned by Lady Skipwith were likely varieties of scented geraniums, also from South Africa, many of which were offered by American nurserymen.

Of the scented flowers, few can compete with Poet's Jasmine, Jasminum officinale. The mere word "jasmine" conjures fragrance and romance, and the delicious odor of this flower, which pours forth at evening, is often the muse of amorous poetry. Jefferson included the "white jasmine" among his "Objects for the Garden" in 1794, and in 1809 he planted "star jasmine" in an oval flower bed. "White Jasmine," likewise, was on Jean Skipwith's list of "Flowering Shrubs." Although this shrubby, Himalayan vine can grow to thirty feet, Virginia winters keep the Poet's Jasmine as a low-growing, woody perennial. Further north it can be grown indoors in pots.

Likewise, wallflowers (Cheiranthus cheiri) ranked highly among the favorite perfumed blooms in early American gardens. Cheiranthus means "hand-flower," and in the Middle Ages it was carried in the hand at festivals. Parkinson wrote: "the sweetnesse of the flowers causeth them to be generally used in Nosegayes and to deck up houses." A double red form was among the six varieties Parkinson grew, and likely the famous "Double Bloody Warrior" that Lady Skipwith mentions by name. "Yellow Stock Gilliflower" was once the term used for the "Yellow Wallflower," and should not be confused with "Gillifowers" and "Clove Gilliflowers," which referred to pinks and carnations. In the late 1800s a miniature double yellow, now known as Harpur Crewe, was rediscovered by and named for the British Rev. Henry Harpur Crewe.

Annual flowers in the gardens of Jefferson, Skipwith, and Faris varied from the delightfully fragrant to the foul smelling and from the delicately beautiful to the bizarrely curious. Mignonette (Reseda odorata), a native of Egypt, was first described in Philip Miller's Dictionary, 1752, as a flower "of a dull colour, but hav[ing] a high ambrosial scent." It became so popular in London that in 1829 a writer remarked: "whole streets were almost oppressive with the odour." Napoleon is credited with collecting mignonette seeds during his Egyptian campaign and sending them to the Empress Josephine at Malmaison. She set the fashion of growing mignonette as a pot-plant for its perfume. At Monticello in 1811 Jefferson situated this flower near the NW cistern.

French marigold (Tagetes patula), on the other hand, was reputed to be poisonous, probably due to its offensive smelling foliage, which was described as hateful, if not injurious. Although native to Mexico, the French marigold, also known as the lesser African marigold, was introduced to Europe by way of North Africa by 1535. In 1808 Jefferson mentions the "2 kinds of Marigold," suggesting he had both the French and African (T. erecta). Faris simply wrote "Marigold;" but Jean Skipwith gives a more precise reference when she wrote "Striped French Marigold," indicating the newest sensation that William Curtis' Botanical Magazine featured in 1791: a lovely yellow-flowered marigold distinctly streaked with red.

Even though Jefferson once wrote that he had no time for "mere curiosities" in the garden, balsam apple (Momordica balsamina) would certainly fall into this category. This unusual vine produces lush, shiny green foliage and pale yellow blossoms followed by curious, bright-orange fruits. These will pop open revealing sticky, bright red seeds. Although the green, immature fruit is used in Asian cooking, it's more fun to watch them ripen and explode on the vine.

The ever-popular, biennial hollyhock (Alcea rosea) was another flower grown by all three. It has been cultivated for centuries and, although probably originating in Asia Minor, now is naturalized throughout the world. By the mid 18th century, Philip Miller's Gardener's Dictionary referred to both the single and double forms as old-fashioned. Jefferson first recorded hollyhocks in June 1767 and charted them in his 1782 "Calendar of the bloom of flowers" as blossoming from mid-June to mid-July. Hollyhocks have persisted in gardens, becoming the centerpiece of late 19th and early 20th-century "Grandmother's Gardens" and continuing in the modern flower border.

This brief collection of flowers mentioned 200 years ago offers a fleeting glimpse into three very personal and private gardens. While Thomas Jefferson, Jean Skipwith, and William Faris lived worlds apart, leading vastly disparate lives in many ways, they were alike in this: their passion for growing flowers and their wherewithal to keep records of their plants...

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Plants in Early American Gardens - Rusty Foxglove

 Rusty Foxglove (Digitalis ferruginea)

Rusty Foxglove (Digitalis ferruginea)

The early summer-flowering Rusty Foxglove is native to southeastern Europe, Turkey, and Lebanon, and documented in the 16th-century British herbals of Parkinson and Gerard. Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard McMahon listed it as "Iron-coloured Fox-glove" in The American Gardener's Calendar (1806) and he sold it by 1810. The plant sends tall flowering spikes above its dark, evergreen foliage, and bears showy, golden-brown flowers with unusual rusty-brown veining.

For more information & the possible availability
Contact The Tho Jefferson Center for Historic Plants or The Shop at Monticello 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Plants in Early American Gardens - Fringed Pink

Fringed Pink (Dianthus superbus)

Fringed Pink is a native European and Asian perennial with flowers in shades of pale pink to white in early summer. Its flowers have a spicy fragrance and deeply cut petals, thus the common name pink, for pinking shears. Although recorded in European gardens by the 17th century, it remained uncommon both in Europe and America until the early 19th century.

For more information & the possible availability
Contact The Tho Jefferson Center for Historic Plants or The Shop at Monticello 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Plants in Early American Gardens - Globe Centaurea

Globe Centaurea (Centaurea macrocephala)

Globe Centaurea, also called Great Golden Knapweed, is a robust perennial from the Caucasus, introduced to Britain by 1805. Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard McMahon sent seeds to Thomas Jefferson in 1812. The plant forms clumps 3-4’ high with large, thistle-like flowers in early summer. Its chestnut-brown buds open to expose a crown of rich yellow florets.

For more information & the possible availability
Contact The Tho Jefferson Center for Historic Plants or The Shop at Monticello 

Friday, September 21, 2018

Plants in Early American Gardens - English Daisy

English Daisy (Bellis perennis)

English Daisy was well-established as a garden flower in America by 1700, and was known by a number of common names, including Bone Flower, Herb Margaret, and Measure of Love. Thomas Jefferson listed it for planting with other hardy perennials at Monticello in 1771. This cool-season, short-lived perennial bears small double daisies in shades of red, pink, and white and prefers cool, moist soil.

For more information & the possible availability
Contact The Tho Jefferson Center for Historic Plants or The Shop at Monticello 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

George Washington: Farmer - Conserving the Soil

George Washington as Farmer by Junius Brutus Stearns. 1851

George Washington: Farmer  
Paul Leland Haworth (1876-1936) 
Ch 8  Conserving the Soil

The Revolution rudely interrupted Washington's farming experiments, & for eight long years he was so actively engaged in the grim business of checkmating Howe & Clinton & Cornwallis that he could give little time or thought to agriculture. For more than six years, in fact, he did not once set foot upon his beloved fields & heard of his crops, his servants & his live stock only from family visitors to his camps or through the pages of his manager's letters.

Peace at last brought him release. He had left Mount Vernon a simple country gentleman; he came back to it one of the most famous men in the world. He wasted no time in contemplating his laurels, but at once threw himself with renewed enthusiasm into his old occupation. His observation of northern agriculture & conversations with other farmers had broadened his views & he was more than ever progressive. He was now thoroughly convinced of the great desirability of grass & stock for conserving the soil & he was also wide awake to the need of better tools & methods & wished to make his estate beautiful as well as useful.

Much of his energy in 1784-85 was devoted to rebuilding his house & improving his grounds, & to his trip to his Ohio lands--all of which are described elsewhere. No diary exists for 1784 except that of the trip to the Ohio, but from the diary of 1785 we learn that he found time to experiment with plaster of Paris & powdered stone as fertilizers, to sow clover, orchard grass, guinea grass & peas & to borrow a scow with which to raise rich mud from the bed of the Potomac.

The growing poverty of his soil, in fact, was a subject to which he gave much attention. He made use of manure when possible, but the supply of this was limited & commercial fertilizers were unknown. As already indicated, he was beginning the use of clover & other grasses, but he was anxious to build up the soil more rapidly & the Potomac muck seemed to him a possible answer to the problem. There was, as he said, "an inexhaustible fund" of it, but the task of getting it on the land was a heavy one. Having heard of a horse-power dredge called the Hippopotamus that was in use on the Delaware River, he made inquiries concerning it but feared that it would not serve his purpose, as he would have to go from one hundred to eight hundred or a thousand yards from high water-mark for the mud--too far out for a horse to be available. Mechanical difficulties & the cost of getting up the mud proved too great for him--as they have proved too great even down to the present--but he never gave up the idea & from time to time tried experiments with small plots of ground that had been covered with the mud. His enthusiasm on the subject was so great that Noah Webster, of dictionary fame, who visited him in this period, says that the standing toast at Mount Vernon was "Success to the mud!"

Every scientific agriculturist knows that erosion is one of the chief causes of loss in soil fertility & that in the basins & deltas of streams & rivers there is going to waste enough muck to make all of our land rich. But the cost of getting this fertility back to the soil has thus far proved too great for us to undertake the task of restoration. It is conceivable, however, that the time may come when we shall undertake the work in earnest & then the dream of Washington will be realized.

The spring & summer of 1785 proved excessively dry, & the crops suffered, as they always do in times of drought. The wheat yield was poor & chinch bugs attacked the corn in such myriads that our Farmer found "hundreds of them & their young under the blades & at the lower joints of the Stock." By the middle of August "Nature had put on a melancholy look." The corn was "fired in most places to the Ear, with little appearance of yielding if Rain should now come & a certainty of making nothing if it did not."

Like millions of anxious farmers before & after him, he watched eagerly for the rain that came not. He records in his diary that on August 17th a good deal of rain fell far up the river, but as for his fields--it tantalizingly passed by on the other side, & "not enough fell here to wet a handkerchief." On the eighteenth, nineteenth & twenty-second clouds & thunder & lightning again awakened hopes but only slight sprinkles resulted. On the twenty-seventh nature at last relented and, to his great satisfaction, there was a generous downpour.

The rain was beneficial to about a thousand grains of Cape of Good Hope wheat that Washington had just sown & by the thirty-first he was able to note that it was coming up. For several years thereafter he experimented with this wheat. He found that it grew up very rank & tried cutting some of it back. But the variety was not well adapted to Virginia & ultimately he gave it up.

In this period he also tried Siberian wheat, put marl on sixteen square rods of meadow, plowed under rye, & experimented with oats, carrots, Eastern Shore peas, supposed to be strengthening to land, also rib grass, burnet & various other things. He planted potatoes both with & without manure & noted carefully the difference in yields. At this time he favored planting corn in rows about ten feet apart, with rows of potatoes, carrots, or peas between. He noted down that his experience showed that corn ought to be planted not later than May 15th, preferably by the tenth or perhaps even as early as the first, in which his practice would not differ much from that of to-day. But he came to an erroneous conclusion when he decided that wheat ought to be sown in August or at the latter end of July, for this was playing into the hands of his enemy, the Hessian fly, which is particularly destructive to early sown wheat. Later he seems to have changed his mind on that point, for near the end of his life he instructed his manager to get the wheat in by September 10th. Another custom which he was advocating was that of fall & winter plowing & he had as much of it done as time & weather would permit. All of his experiments in this period were painstakingly set down & he even took the trouble in 1786 to index his agricultural notes & observations for that year.

 "On sixteen square rod of ground in my lower pasture, I put 140 Bushels of what we call Marle viz on 4 of these, No. Wt. corner were placed 50 bushels--on 4 others So. Wt. corner 30 bushels--on 4 others So. Et. corner 40 bushels--and on the remaining 4-20 bushels. This Marle was spread on the rods in these proportions--to try first whether what we have denominated to be Marie possesses any virtue as manure--and secondly--if it does, the quantity proper for an acre." His ultimate conclusion was that marl was of little benefit to land such as he owned at Mount Vernon.

Many of his experiments were made in what he called his "Botanical Garden," a plot of ground lying between the flower garden & the spinner's house. But he had experimental plots on most or all of his plantations, & each day as he made the rounds of his estate on horseback he would examine how his plants were growing or would start new experiments.

One of Washington's successes was what he called a "barrel plough." At that time all seed, such as corn, wheat & oats had to be sown or dropped by hand & then covered with a harrow or a hoe or something of the kind. Washington tried to make a machine that would do the work more expeditiously & succeeded, though it should be said that his plans were not altogether original with him, as there was a plan for such a machine in Duhamel & another was published by Arthur Young about this time in the Annals of Agriculture, which Washington was now perusing with much attention. Richard Peters also sent yet another plan.

Washington's drill, as we should call it to-day, consisted of a barrel or hollow cylinder of wood mounted upon a wheeled plow & so arranged that as the plow moved forward the barrel turned. In the barrel, holes were cut or burnt through which the corn or other seed could drop into tubes that ran down to the ground. By decreasing or increasing the number of holes the grain could be planted thicker or thinner as desired. To prevent the holes from choking up he found it expedient to make them larger on the outside than on the inside, & he also found that the machine worked better if the barrel was not kept too full of seed. Behind the drills ran a light harrow or drag which covered the seed, though in rough ground it was necessary to have a man follow after with a hoe to assist the process. A string was fastened to this harrow by which it could be lifted around when turning at the ends of the rows, the drill itself being managed by a pair of handles.

Washington wrote to a friend that the drill would not "work to good effect in land that is very full either of stumps, stones, or large clods; but, where the ground is tolerably free from these & in good tilth, & particularly in light land, I am certain you will find it equal to your most sanguine expectation, for Indian corn, wheat, barley, pease, or any other tolerably round grain, that you may wish to sow or plant in this manner. I have sown oats very well with it, which is among the most inconvenient & unfit grains for this machine.... A small bag, containing about a peck of the seed you are sowing, is hung to the nails on the right handle, & [pg 109] with a small tin cup the barrel is replenished with convenience, whenever it is necessary, without loss of time, or waiting to come up with the seed-bag at the end of the row."

As Washington says, the drill would probably work well under ideal conditions, but there were features of it that would incline, I have no doubt, to make its operator swear at times. There was a leather band that ran about the barrel with holes corresponding to those in the barrel, the purpose of the band being to prevent the seeds issuing out of more than one hole at the same time. This band had to be "slackened or braced" according to the influence of the atmosphere upon the leather, & sometimes the holes in the band tended to gape & admit seed between the band & the barrel, in which case Washington found it expedient to rivet "a piece of sheet tin, copper, or brass, the width of the band, & about four inches long, with a hole through it, the size of the one in the leather."

Washington was, however, very proud of the drill, & it must have worked fairly well, for he was not the man to continue to use a worthless implement simply because he had made it. He even used it to sow very small seed. In the summer of 1786 he records: "Having fixed a Roller to the tale of my drill plow, & a brush between it & the barrel, I sent it to Muddy Hole & sowed turnips in the intervals of corn."

[Another passage from his papers in which he mentions using his drill plow is also illustrative of the emphasis he placed upon having the seed bed for a crop properly prepared. The passage describes his sowing some spring wheat & is as follows: "12th [of April, 1785].--Sowed sixteen acres of Siberian wheat, with eighteen quarts, in rows between corn, eight feet apart. This ground had been prepared in the following manner: 1. A single furrow; 2. another in the same to deepen it; 3. four furrows to throw the earth back into the two first, which made ridges of five furrows. These, being done some time ago, & the sowing retarded by frequent rains, had got hard; therefore, 4. before the seed was sown, these ridges were split again by running twice in the middle of them, both times in the same furrow; 5. after which the ridges were harrowed; and, 6. where the ground was lumpy, run a spiked roller with a harrow at the tail of it, which was found very efficacious in breaking the clods & pulverizing the earth, & would have done it perfectly, if there had not been too much moisture remaining from the late rains. After this, harrowing & rolling were necessary, the wheat was sown with the drill plough on the reduced ridges eight feet apart, as above mentioned, & harrowed in with the small harrow belonging to the plough. But it should have been observed, that, after the ridges were split by the middle double furrows, & before they were closed again by the harrow, a little manure was sprinkled in."

No man better understood the value of good clean seed than did he, but he had much trouble in satisfying his desires in this respect. Often the seed he bought was foul with weed seeds, & at other times it would not grow at all. Once he mentions having set the women & "weak hands" to work picking wild onions out of some Eastern Shore oats that he had bought.

He advocated planting the largest & finest potatoes instead of the little ones, as some farmers out of false ideas of economy still make the mistake of doing, & he followed the same principle that "the best will produce the best" in selecting all seed.

He also appreciated the importance of getting just the right stand of grain--not too many plants & not too few--upon his fields & conducted investigations along this line. He laboriously calculated the number of seed in a pound Troy of various seeds & ascertained, for example, that the number of red clover was 71,000, of timothy 298,000, of "New River Grass" 844,800 & of barley 8,925. Knowing these facts, he was able to calculate how much ought to be sowed of a given seed to the acre.

In the spring of the year that he helped to frame the Federal Constitution he "Sowed the squares No. 2 & 4 at this place [Dogue Run] with oats in the following manner--viz--the East half of No. 2 with half a Bushel of Oats from George Town--and the west half with a Bushel of Poland Oats--The east half of No. 4 with half a bushel of the Poland Oats & the west half with a bushel of the George Town Oats. The objects, & design of this experiment, was to ascertn. 3 things--1st. which of these two kinds of Oats were best the George Town (which was a good kind of the common Oats)--2d. whether two or four bushels to the Acre was best--and 3d. the difference between ground dunged at the Rate of 5 load or 200 bushels to the Acre & ground undunged."

This experiment is typical of a great many others & it resulted, of course, in better yields on the manured ground & showed that two bushels of seed were preferable to four. But if he ever set down the result of the experiment as regards the varieties, the passage has escaped me.

While at Fredericksburg this year visiting his mother & his sister Betty Lewis he learned of an interesting method of raising potatoes under straw & wrote down the details in his diary. A little later when attending the Federal Convention he kept his eyes & ears open for agricultural information. He learned how the Pennsylvanians cultivated buckwheat & visited the farm of a certain Jones, who was getting good results from the use of plaster of Paris. With his usual interest in labor-saving machinery he inspected at Benjamin Franklin's a sort of ironing machine called a mangle, "well calculated," he thought, "for Table cloths & such articles as have not pleats & irregular foldings & would be very useful in large families."

This year he had in wheat seven hundred acres, in grass five hundred eighty acres, in oats four hundred acres, in corn seven hundred acres, with several hundred more in buckwheat, barley, potatoes, peas, beans & turnips.

In 1788 he raised one thousand eighty-eight bushels of potatoes on one plantation, but they were not dug till December & in consequence some were badly injured by the frost. An experiment that year was one of transplanting carrots between rows of corn & it was not successful.

He worked hard in these years, but, as many another industrious farmer has discovered, he found that he could do little unless nature smiled & fickle nature persisted in frowning. In 1785 the rain seemed to forget how to fall, & in 1786 how to stop falling. Some crops failed or were very short & soon he was so hard up that he was anxious to sell some lands or negroes to meet debts coming due. In February, 1786, in sending fifteen guineas to his mother, he wrote:

"I have now demands upon me for more than £500, three hundred & forty odd of which is due for the tax of 1786; & I know not where or when I shall receive one shilling with which to pay it. In the last two years I made no crops. In the first I was obliged to buy corn, & this year have none to sell, & my wheat is so bad I can neither eat it myself nor sell it to others, & tobacco I make none. Those who owe me money cannot or will not pay it without suits, & to sue is to do nothing; whilst my expenses, not from any extravagance, or an inclination on my part to live splendidly, but for the absolute support of my family & the visitors who are constantly here, are exceedingly high."

To bad crops were joined bad conditions throughout the country generally. The government of the Confederation was dying of inanition, America was flooded with depreciated currency, both state & Continental. In western Massachusetts a rebellion broke out, the rebels being largely discouraged debtors. A state of chaos seemed imminent & would have resulted had not the Federal Convention, of which Washington was a member, created a new government. Ultimately this government brought order & financial stability, but all this took time & Washington was so financially embarrassed in 1789 when he traveled to New York to be inaugurated President that he had to borrow money to pay the expenses of the journey.

After having set the wheels of government in motion he made an extended trip through New England & whenever public festivities would permit he examined into New England farm methods & took copious notes. On the first day up from New York he saw good crops of corn mixed with pumpkins & met four droves of beef cattle, "some of which were very fine--also a Flock of Sheep.... We scarcely passed a farm house that did not abd. in Geese." His judgment of New England stock was that the cattle were "of a good quality & their hogs large, but rather long legged." The shingle roofs, stone & brick chimneys, stone fences & cider making all attracted his attention. The fact that wheat in that section produced an average of fifteen bushels per acre & often twenty or twenty-five was duly noted. On the whole he seems to have considered the tour enjoyable & profitable in spite of the fact that on his return through Connecticut the law against Sabbath traveling compelled him to remain over Sunday at Perkins' Tavern & to attend church twice, where he "heard very lame discourses from a Mr. Pond."

About 1785 Washington had begun a correspondence with Arthur Young & also began to read his periodical called the Annals of Agriculture. The Annals convinced him more than ever of the superiority of the English system of husbandry & not only gave him the idea for some of the experiments that have been mentioned, but also made him very desirous of adopting a regular & systematic course of cropping in order to conserve his soil. Taking advantage of an offer made by Young, he ordered (August 6, 1786) through him English plows, cabbage, turnip, sainfoin, rye-grass & hop clover seed & eight bushels of winter vetches; also some months later, velvet wheat, field beans, spring barley, oats & more sainfoin seed. He furthermore expressed a wish for "a plan of the most complete & useful farmyard, for farms of about 500 acres. In this I mean to comprehend the barn, & every appurtenance which ought to be annexed to the yard."

Young was as good as his word. Although English law forbade the exportation of some of these things--a fact of which Washington was not aware--he & Sir John Sinclair prevailed upon Lord Grenville to issue a special permit & in due course everything reached Mount Vernon. Part of the seeds were somewhat injured by being put into the hold of the vessel that brought them over, with the result that they overheated--a thing that troubled Washington whenever he imported seeds--but on the whole the consignment was in fair order, & our Farmer was duly grateful.

The plows appeared excessively heavy to the Virginians who looked them over, but a trial showed that they worked "exceedingly well."

To Young's plan for a barn & barnyard Washington made some additions & constructed the barn upon Union Farm, building it of bricks that were made on the estate. He later expressed a belief that it was "the largest & most convenient one in this country." It has now disappeared almost utterly, but Young's plan was subsequently engraved in the Annals.

In return for the exertions of Young & Sinclair in his behalf Washington sent over some American products & also took pains to collect information for them as to the state of American agriculture. His letters show an almost pathetic eagerness to please these good friends & it is evident that in his farming operations he regarded himself as one of Young's disciples. He was no egotist who believed that because he had been a successful soldier & was now President of the United States he could not learn anything from a specialist. The trait was most commendable & one that is sadly lacking in many of his countrymen, some of whom take pride in declaring that "these here scientific fellers caint tell me nothin' about raisin' corn!"

Young & Sir John Sinclair were by no means his only agricultural correspondents. Even Noah Webster dropped his legal & philological work long enough in 1790 to propound a theory so startlingly modern in its viewpoint that it is worthy of reproduction. Said he:

"While therefore I allow, in its full extent, the value of stable manure, marl, plaster of Paris, lime, ashes, sea-weed, sea-shells & salt, in enriching land, I believe none of them are absolutely necessary, but that nature has provided an inexhaustible store of manure, which is equally accessible to the rich & the poor, & which may be collected & applied to land with very little labor & expense. This store is the atmosphere, & the process by which the fertilizing substance may be obtained is vegetation."

He added that such crops as oats, peas, beans & buckwheat should be raised & plowed under to rot & that land should never be left bare. As one peruses the letter he recalls that scientists of to-day tell us that the air is largely made up of nitrogen, that plants are able to "fix it," & he half expects to find Webster advocating "soil innoculation" & speaking of "nodules" & "bacteria."

Throughout the period after the Revolution our Farmer's one greatest concern was to conserve & restore his land. When looking for a new manager he once wrote that the man must be, "above all, Midas like, one who can convert everything he touches into manure, as the first transmutation toward gold; in a word, one who can bring worn-out & gullied lands into good tilth in the shortest time." He saved manure as if it were already so much gold & hoped with its use & with judicious rotation of crops to accomplish his object. "Unless some such practice as this prevails," he wrote in 1794, "my fields will be growing worse & worse every year, until the Crops will not defray the expense of the culture of them."

He drew up elaborate plans for the rotation of crops on his different farms. Not content with one plan, he often drew up several alternatives; calculated the probable financial returns from each, allowing for the cost of seed, cultivation & other expenses, & commented upon the respective advantages from every point of view of the various plans. The labor involved in such work was very great, but Washington was no shirker. He was always up before sunrise, both in winter & summer, & seems to have been so constituted that he was most contented when he had something to do. Perhaps if he had had to engage in hard manual toil every day he would have had less inclination for such employment, but he worked with his own hands only intermittently, devoting his time mostly to planning & oversight.

One such plan for Dogue Run Farm is given on the next page. To understand it the reader should bear in mind that the farm contained five hundred

No. of Fields 1793 1794 1795 1796 1797 1798 1799
3 Corn & Potatoes Wheat Buckwheat for Manure Wheat Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Clover or Grass
4 Clover or Grass Corn & Potatoes Wheat Buckwheat for Manure Wheat Clover or Grass Clover or Grass
5 Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Corn & Potatoes Wheat Buckwheat for Manure Wheat Clover or Grass
6 Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Corn & Potatoes Wheat Buckwheat for Manure Wheat
7 Wheat Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Corn & Potatoes Wheat Buckwheat for Manure
1 Buckwheat for Manure Wheat Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Corn & Potatoes Wheat
2 Wheat Buckwheat for Manure Wheat Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Corn & Potatoes
twenty-five arable acres divided into seven fields, each of which contained about seventy-five acres.

Of this rotation he noted that it "favors the land very much; inasmuch as there are but three corn crops [i.e. grain crops] taken in seven years from any field, & the first of the wheat crops is followed by a Buck Wheat manure for the second Wheat Crop, wch. is to succeed it; & which by being laid to Clover or Grass & continued therein three years will a ford much Mowing or Grassing, according as the Seasons happen to be, besides being a restoration to the Soil--But the produce of the sale of the Crops is small, unless encreased by the improving state of the fields. Nor will the Grain for the use of the Farm be adequate to the consumption of it in this Course, & this is an essential object to attend to."

In a second table he estimated the amount of work that would be required each year to carry out this plan of rotation, assuming that one plow would break up three-fourths of an acre per day. This amount is hardly half what an energetic farmer with a good team of horses will now turn over in a day with an ordinary walking plow, but the negro farmer lacked ambition, the plows were cumbersome, & much of the work was done with plodding oxen. The table follows:

He estimated that seventy-five acres of corn would yield, at twelve & a half bushels per acre, 937-1/2 bushels, worth at two shillings & sixpence per bushel £117.3.9. In this field potatoes would be planted between the rows of corn & would produce, at twelve & a half bushels per acre, 937-1/2 bushels, worth at one shilling per bushel £46.17.6. Two fields in wheat, a total of one hundred fifty acres, at ten bushels per acre, would yield one thousand five hundred bushels, worth at five shillings per bushel three hundred seventy-five pounds. Three fields in clover & grass & the field of buckwheat to be turned under for manure would yield no money return. In other words the whole farm would produce three thousand three hundred seventy-five bushels of grain & potatoes worth a total of £539.1.3.

A second alternative plan would yield crops worth £614.1.3; a third, about the same; a fourth, £689.1.3; a fifth, providing for two hundred twenty-five acres of wheat, £801.11.0; a sixth, £764. Number five would be most productive, but he noted that it would seriously reduce the land. Number six would be "the 2d. most productive Rotation, but the fields receive no rest," as it provided for neither grass nor pasture, while the plowing required would exceed that of any of the other plans by two hundred eighty days.

On a small scale he tried growing cotton, Botany Bay grass, hemp, white nankeen grass & various other products. He experimented with deep soil plowing by running twice in the same furrow & also cultivated some wheat that had been drilled in rows instead of broadcasted.

Dogue Run Farm. The plan of this barn, drawn by Washington himself, is still preserved & is reproduced herewith. He calculated that one hundred & forty thousand bricks would be required for it & these were made & burnt upon the estate. The barn was particularly notable for a threshing floor thirty feet square, with interstices one & a half inches wide left between the floor boards so that the grain when trodden out by horses or beat out with flails would fall through to the floor below, leaving the straw above.

This floor was to furnish an illustration of what Washington called "the almost impossibility of putting the overseers of this country out of the track they have been accustomed to walk in. I have one of the most convenient barns in this or perhaps any other country, where thirty hands may with great ease be employed in threshing. Half the wheat of the farm was actually stowed in this barn in the straw by my order, for threshing; notwithstanding, when I came home about the middle of September, I found a treading yard not thirty feet from the barn-door, the wheat again brought out of the barn, & horses treading it out in an open exposure, liable to the vicissitudes of the weather."

Under any conditions treading or flailing out wheat was a slow & unsatisfactory process and, as Washington grew great quantities of this grain, he was alert for a better method. We know that he made inquiries of Arthur Young concerning a threshing machine invented by a certain Winlaw & pictured & described in volume six of the Annals, & in 1790 he watched the operation of Baron Poelnitz's mill on the Winlaw model near New York City. This mill was operated by two men & was capable of threshing about two bushels of wheat per hour--pretty slow work as compared with that of a modern thresher. And the grain had to be winnowed, or passed through a fan afterward to separate it from the chaff.

Finally in 1797 he erected a machine on plans evolved by William Booker, who came to Mount Vernon & oversaw the construction. Next April he wrote to Booker that the machine "has by no means answered your expectations or mine," At first it threshed not quite fifty bushels per day, then fell to less than twenty-five, & ultimately got out of order before five hundred bushels had been threshed, though it had used up two bands costing between eight & ten pounds. Booker replied that he had now greatly improved his invention & would come to Mount Vernon & make these additions, but whether or not he ever did so I have failed to discover.

By 1793 the burden of the estate had become so heavy that Washington decided to rent all of it except the Mansion House Farm & accordingly he wrote to Arthur Young telling his desire in the hope that Englishmen might be found to take it over. One man, Parkinson, of whom more hereafter, came to America & looked at one of the farms, but decided not to rent it. Washington's elaborate description of his land in his letter to Young, with an accompanying map, forms one of our best sources of information regarding Mount Vernon, so that we may be grateful that he had the intention even though nothing came of it. The whole of Mount Vernon continued to be cultivated as before until the last year of his life when he rented Dogue Run Farm to his nephew, Lawrence Lewis.

As a public man he was anxious to improve the general state of American agriculture & in his last annual message to Congress recommended the establishment of a board of agriculture to collect & diffuse information & "by premiums & small pecuniary aids to encourage & assist a spirit of discovery & improvement." In this recommendation the example of the English Board of Agriculture & the influence of his friend Arthur Young are discernible. It would have been well for the country if Congress had heeded the advice, but public opinion was not then educated to the need of such a step & almost a century passed before anything of much importance was done by the national government to improve the state of American agriculture.

In farming as in politics Washington was no standpatter. Notwithstanding many discouragements, he could not be kept from trying new things, & he furnished his farms with every kind of improved tool & implement calculated to do better work. At his death he owned not only threshing machines & a Dutch fan, but a wheat drill, a corn drill, a machine for gathering clover seed & another for raking up wheat. Yet most of his countrymen remained content to drop corn by hand, to broadcast their wheat, to tread out their grain & otherwise to follow methods as old as the days of Abel for at least another half century.

He was the first American conservationist. He realized that man owes a duty to the future just as he owes a debt to the past. He deplored the already developing policy of robber exploitation by which our soil & forests have been despoiled, for he foresaw the bitter fruits which such a policy must produce, & indeed was already producing on the fields of Virginia. He was no misanthropic cynic to exclaim, "What has posterity ever done for us that we should concern ourselves for posterity?" His care for the lands of Mount Vernon was evidence of the God-given trait imbedded in the best of men to transmit unimpaired to future generations what has been handed down to them.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Plants in Early American Gardens - Butterfly Weed

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

A magnet for butterflies and other pollinators, Butterfly Weed is a North American perennial valued for its summer flowers in brilliant shades of orange to red. Also called Pleurisy Root in reference to its historic use in treating lung ailments, Thomas Jefferson included this species in a list of native medicinal plants in his book, Notes on the State of Virginia (1780s).

For more information & the possible availability
Contact The Tho Jefferson Center for Historic Plants or The Shop at Monticello 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

George Washington: Farmer - The Stockman

George Washington as Farmer by Junius Brutus Stearns. 1851

George Washington: Farmer  
Paul Leland Haworth (1876-1936) 
Ch 9 The Stockman

A various times in his career Washington raised deer, turkeys, hogs, cattle, geese, negroes & various other forms of live stock, but his greatest interest seems to have been reserved for horses, sheep & mules.

From his diaries & other papers that have come down to us it is easy to see that during his early married life he paid most attention to his horses. In 1760 he kept a stallion both for his own mares & for those of his neighbors, & we find many entries concerning the animal. Successors were "Leonidas," "Samson," "Steady," "Traveller" & "Magnolia," the last a full-blooded Arabian & probably the finest beast he ever owned. When away from home Washington now & then directed the manager to advertise the animal then reigning or to exhibit him in public places such as fairs. Mares brought to the stallion were kept upon pasture, & foal was guaranteed. Many times the General complained of the difficulty of collecting fees.

During the Revolution he bought twenty-seven worn-out army mares for breeding purposes & soon after he became President he purchased at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, thirteen fine animals for the same use. These last cost him a total of £317.17.6, the price of the highest being £25.7.6 & of the cheapest £22.10. These mares were unusually good animals, as an ordinary beast would have cost only five or six pounds.

In November, 1785, he had on his various Mount Vernon farms a total of one hundred thirty horses, including the Arabian already mentioned. Among the twenty-one animals kept at the Mansion House were his old war horses "Nelson" & "Blewskin," who after bearing their master through the smoke & dangers of many battles lived in peace to a ripe old age on the green fields of Virginia.

In his last days he bought two of the easy-gaited animals known as Narragansetts, a breed, some readers will recall, described at some length by Cooper in The Last of the Mohicans. A peculiarity of these beasts was that they moved both legs on a side forward at the same time, that is, they were pacers. Washington's two proved somewhat skittish, & one of them was responsible for the only fall from horseback that we have any record of his receiving. In company with Major Lewis, Mr. Peake, young George Washington Custis & a groom he was returning in the evening from Alexandria & dismounted for a few moments near a fire on the roadside. When he attempted to mount again the horse sprang forward suddenly & threw him. The others jumped from their horses to assist him, but the old man got up quickly, brushed his clothes & explained that he had been thrown only because he had not yet got seated. All the horses meanwhile had run away & the party started to walk four miles home, but luckily some negroes along the road caught the fugitives & brought them back. Washington insisted upon mounting his animal again & rode home without further incident. This episode happened only a few weeks before his death.

Like every farmer he found that his horses had a way of growing old. Those with which he had personal associations, like "Blueskin" & "Nelson," he kept until they died of old age. With others he sometimes followed a different course. In 1792 we find his manager, Whiting, writing: "We have several Old Horses that are not worth keeping thro winter. One at Ferry has not done one days work these 18 Months. 2 at Muddy hole one a horse with the Pole evil which I think will not get well the other an Old Mare was not capable of work last summer. Likewise the Horse called old Chatham & the Lame Horse that used to go in the Waggon now in a one horse Cart. If any thing could be Got for them it might be well but they are not worth keeping after Christmas." No doubt a sentimental person would say that Washington ought to have kept these old servants, but he had many other superannuated servants of the human kind upon his hands, so he replied that Whiting might dispose of the old horses "as you judge best for my interest."

Now & then his horses met with accidents. Thus on February 22, 1760, his horse "Jolly" got his right foreleg "mashed to pieces," probably by a falling limb. "Did it up as well as I could this night." "Saturday, Feb. 23d. Had the Horse Slung upon Canvas & his leg fresh set, following Markleham's directions as well as I could." Two days later the horse fell out of the sling & hurt himself so badly that he had to be killed.

Of Washington's skill as a trainer of horses his friend De Chastellux writes thus: "The weather [being fair, on the 26th, I got on horseback, after breakfasting with the general--he was so attentive as to give me the horse he rode, the day of my arrival, which I had greatly commended--I found him as good as he is handsome; but above all, perfectly well broke, & well trained, having a good mouth, easy in hand, & stopping short in a gallop without bearing the bit--I mention these minute particulars, because it is the general himself who breaks all his own horses; & he is a very excellent & bold horseman, leaping the highest fences, & going extremely quick, without standing upon his stirrups, bearing on the bridle, or letting his horse run wild,--circumstances which young men look upon as so essential a part of English horsemanship, that they would rather break a leg or an arm than renounce them."

Comparatively few farmers in Virginia kept sheep, yet as early as 1758 Washington's overseer at Mount Vernon reported sixty-five old sheep & forty-eight lambs; seven years later the total number was one hundred fifty-six. The next year he records that he "put my English Ram Lamb to 65 Ewes," so that evidently he was trying to improve the breed. What variety this ram belonged to he does not say. Near the end of his career he had some of Bakewell's breed, an English variety that put on fat rapidly & hence were particularly desirable for mutton.

During his long absences from home his sheep suffered grievously, for sheep require a skilled care that few of his managers or overseers knew how to give. But sheep were an important feature of the English agriculture that he imitated, & he persisted in keeping them. In 1793 he had over six hundred.

"Before I left home in the spring of 1789," he wrote to Arthur Young, "I had improved that species of my stock so much as to get 5-1/4 lbs of Wool as the average of the fleeces of my whole flock,--and at the last shearing they did not yield me 2-1/2 lbs.--By procuring (if I am able) good rams & giving the necessary attention, I hope to get them up again for they are with me, as you have declared them to be with you, that part of my stock in which I most delight."

In 1789, by request, he sent Young "a fleece of a midling size & quality." Young had this made up into cloth & returned it to the General.

In 1793 we find our Farmer giving such instructions to Whiting as to cull out the unthrifty sheep & transform them into mutton & to choose a few of the best young males to keep as rams. Whiting, however, did not manage the flock well, for the following February we find Pearce, the new manager, writing:

"I am sorry to have to inform you that the stock of sheep at Both Union & Dogue Run farms are Some of them Dicing Every Week--& a great many of Them will be lost, let what will be done--Since I came I have had shelters made for them & Troughs to feed them In & to give them salt--& have attended to them myself & was In hopes to have saved those that I found to be weak, but they were too far gone--and Several of the young Cattle at Dogue Run was past all Recovery when I come & some have died already & several more I am afraid must die before spring, they are so very poor & weak."

Washington, according to his own account, was the first American to attempt the raising of mules. Soon after the Revolution he asked our representative in Spain to ascertain whether it would be possible "to procure permission to extract a Jack ass of the best breed." At that time the exportation of these animals from Spain was forbidden by law, but Florida Blanca, the Spanish minister of state, brought the matter to the attention of the king, who in a fit of generosity proceeded to send the American hero two jacks & two jennets. One of the jacks died on the way over, but the other animals, in charge of a Spanish caretaker, reached Boston, & Washington despatched an overseer to escort them to Mount Vernon, where they arrived on the fifth of December, 1785. An interpreter named Captain Sullivan was brought down from Alexandria, & through him the General propounded to the caretaker many grave inquiries regarding the care of the beasts, the answers being carefully set down in writing.

"Royal Gift," as he was duly christened, probably by the negro groom, Peter, who seems to have considered it beneath his dignity to minister to any but royalty, was a large animal. According to careful measurements taken on the porch at Mount Vernon he was fifteen hands high, & his body & limbs were very large in proportion to his height; his ears were fourteen inches long, & his vocal cords were good. He was, however, a sluggish beast, & the sea voyage had affected him so unfavorably that for some time he was of little use. In letters to Lafayette & others Washington commented facetiously upon the beast's failure to appreciate "republican enjoyment." Ultimately, however, "Royal Gift" recovered his strength & ambition & proved a valuable piece of property. He was presently sent on a lour of the South, & while in South Carolina was in the charge of Colonel William Washington, a hero of the Cowpens & many other battles. The profits from the tour amounted to $678.64, yet poor "Royal Gift" seems to have experienced some rough usage on the way thither, arriving lame & thin & in a generally debilitated condition. The General wrote to the Colonel about it thus:

"From accounts which I have received from some gentlemen in Virginia he was most abominably treated on the journey by the man to whom he was entrusted;--for, instead of moving him slowly & steadily along as he ought, he was prancing (with the Jack) from one public meeting or place to another in a gate which could not but prove injurious to an animal who had hardly ever been out of a walk before--and afterward, I presume, (in order to recover lost time) rushed him beyond what he was able to bear the remainder of the journey."

No doubt the beast aroused great curiosity along the way among people who had never before set eyes upon such a creature. We can well believe that the cry, "General Washington's jackass is coming!" was always sufficient to attract a gaping crowd. And many would be the sage comments upon the animal's voice & appearance.

In 1786 Lafayette sent Washington from the island of Malta another jack & two jennets, besides some Chinese pheasants & partridges. The animals landed at Baltimore in November & reached Mount Vernon in good condition later in the month. To Campion, the man who accompanied them, Washington gave "30 Louis dores for his trouble." The new jack, the "Knight of Malta," as he was called, was a smaller beast than "Royal Gift," & his ears measured only twelve inches, but he was well formed & had the ferocity of a tiger.

By crossing the two strains Washington ultimately obtained a jack called "Compound," who united in his person the size & strength of the "Gift" with the courage & activity of the "Knight." The General also raised many mules, which he found to be good workers & more cheaply kept in condition than horses.

Henceforward the peaceful quiet of Mount Vernon was broken many times a day by sounds which, if not musical or mellifluous, were at least jubilant & joyous.

Evidently the sounds in no way disturbed the General, for in 1788 we find him describing the acquisitions in enthusiastic terms to Arthur Young. He called the mules "a very excellent race of animals," cheap to keep & willing workers. Recalling, perhaps, that a king's son once rode upon a mule, he proposes to breed heavy ones from "Royal Gift" for draft purposes & lighter ones from the "Knight" for saddle or carriage. He adds: "Indeed in a few years, I intend to drive no other in my carriage, having appropriated for the sole purpose of breeding them, upwards of twenty of my best mares."

Ah, friend George, what would the world not give to see thee & thy wife Martha driving in the Mount Vernon coach down Pennsylvania Avenue behind four such long-eared beasts!

In all his stock raising, as in most other matters, Washington was greatly hampered by the carelessness of his overseers & slaves. It is notorious that free negroes will often forget or fail to water & feed their own horses, & it may easily be believed that when not influenced by fear, slaves would neglect the stock of their master. Among the General's papers I have found a list of the animals that died upon his Mount Vernon estate from April 16, 1789, to December 25, 1790. In that period of about twenty months he lost thirty-three horses, thirty-two cattle & sixty-five sheep! Considering the number of stock he had, a fifth of that loss would have been excessive. During most of the period he was away from home looking after the affairs of the nation & in his absence his own affairs suffered.

Hardly a report of his manager did not contain some bad news. Thus one of January, 1791, states that "the Young black Brood Mare, with a long tail, which Came from Pennsylvania, said to be four Years old next spring ... was found with her thigh broke quite in two." This happened on the Mansion House farm. On another farm a sheep was reported to have been killed by dogs while a second had died suddenly, perhaps from eating some poisonous plant.

Dogs, in fact, constituted an ever present menace to the sheep & it was only by constant watchfulness that the owner kept his negroes from overrunning the place with worthless curs. In 1792 he wrote to his manager: "I not only approve of your killing those Dogs which have been the occasion of the late loss, & of thinning the Plantations of others, but give it as a positive order that after saying what dog, or dogs shall remain, if any negro presumes under any pretence whatsoever, to preserve, or bring one into the family, that he shall be severely punished, & the dog hanged.--I was obliged to adopt this practice whilst I resided at home, & from the same motive, that is for the preservation of my Sheep & Hogs.... It is not for any good purpose Negroes raise, & keep dogs; but to aid them in their night robberies; for it is astonishing to see the command under which the dogs are."

After the Revolution, in imitation of English farmers, he made use of hurdles in pasturing sheep & milk cows. Thereby he secured more even distribution of the manure, which was one of his main objects in raising stock.

Washington's interest in cattle seems to have been less intense than was the case with some other kinds of stock. He always had a great number of cows, bulls, oxen & calves upon his farms--in 1793 over three hundred "black cattle" of all sorts. He was accustomed to brand his cattle with the letters "G.W.," the location of the brand on the body indicating the farm on which the beast was raised. To what extent he endeavored to improve the breed of his cattle I am unable to say, but I have found that as early as 1770 he owned an English bull, which in July he killed & sold to the crew of the British frigate Boston, which lay in the Potomac off his estate. In 1797 he made inquiries looking toward the purchase of an improved bull calf from a cattle breeder named Gough, but upon learning that the price was two hundred dollars he decided not to invest. Gough, however, heard of Washington's interest in his animals, & being an admirer of the General, gave him a calf. An English farmer, Parkinson, who saw the animal in 1798, describes him in terms the reverse of enthusiastic, & of this more hereafter.

A large part of the heavy work on all the farms was done by oxen. In November, 1785, there were thirteen yoke of these beasts on the Mount Vernon estate & the number was sometimes still larger. In 1786 Washington recorded putting "a Collar on a large Bull in order to break him to the draft.--at first he was sulky & restive but came to by degrees." The owner always aimed to have enough oxen broken so that none would have to be worked too hard, but he did not always succeed in his aim. When they attained the age of eight years the oxen were usually fattened & killed for beef.

The management of the milk cows seems to have been very poor. In May, 1793, we find the absent owner writing to his manager: "If for the sake of making a little butter (for which I shall get scarcely anything) my calves are starved, & die, it may be compared to stopping the spigot, & opening the faucit." Evidently the making of butter was almost totally discontinued, for in his last instructions, completed only a few days before his death, he wrote: "And It is hoped & will be expected, that more effectual measures will be pursued to make butter another year; for it is almost beyond belief, that from 101 Cows actually reported on a late enumeration of the Cattle, that I am obliged to buy butter for the use of my family."

In his later years he became somewhat interested in the best methods of feeding cattle & once suggested that the experiment be tried of fattening one bullock on potatoes, another on corn, & a third on a mixture of both, "keeping an exact account of the time they are fatting, & what is eaten of each, & of hay, by the different steers; that a judgment may [pg 146] be formed of the best & least expensive mode of stall feeding beef for market, or for my own use."

During his early farming operations his swine probably differed little if at all from the razor-backs of his neighbors. They ranged half wild in the woods in summer & he once expressed the opinion that fully half the pigs raised were stolen by the slaves, who loved roast pork fully as well as did their master. In the fall the shoats were shut up to fatten. More than a hundred were required each year to furnish meat for the people on the estate; the average weight was usually less than one hundred forty pounds. Farmers in the Middle West would to-day have their Poland Chinas or Durocs of the same age weighing two hundred fifty to three hundred pounds. Still the smallness of Washington's animals does not necessarily indicate such bad management as may at first glance appear. Until of considerable size the pigs practically made their own living, eating roots & mast in the woods, & they did not require much grain except during fattening time. And, after all, as the story has it, "what's time to a hawg?"

In his later years he seems to have taken more interest in his pigs. By 1786 he had decided that when fattening they ought to be put into closed pens with a plank floor, a roof, running water & good troughs. A visitor to Mount Vernon in 1798 says that he had "about 150 of the Guinea kind, with short legs & hollow back," so it is evident that he was experimenting with new breeds. These Guinea swine were red in color, & it is said that the breed was brought to America from west Africa by slave traders. It was to these animals that Washington fed the by-products of his distillery.

In the slaughtering of animals he tried experiments as he did in so many other matters. In 1768 he killed a wether sheep which weighed one hundred three pounds gross. He found that it made sixty pounds of meat worth three pence per pound, five & a half of tallow at seven & a half pence, three of wool at fifteen pence, & the skin was worth one shilling & three pence, a total of £1.3.5. One object of such experiments was to ascertain whether it was more profitable to butcher animals or sell them on the hoof.

Washington also raised chickens, turkeys, swans, ducks, geese & various other birds & beasts. In 1788 Gouverneur Morris sent him two Chinese pigs & with them "a pair of Chinese geese, which are really the foolishest geese I ever beheld; for they choose all times for setting but in the spring, & one of them is even now [November] actually engaged in that business." Of some golden pheasants that had been brought from China the General said that before seeing the birds he had considered that pictures of them must be "only works of fancy, but now I find them to be only Portraits."

The fact is that his friends & admirers sent him so many feathered or furred creatures that toward the end of his life he was the proprietor of a considerable zoo.

Notwithstanding mismanagement by his employees & slaves, Washington accumulated much valuable domestic stock. In his will, made the year of his death, he lists the following: "1 Covering horse, 5 Cob. horses--4 Riding do--Six brood mares--20 working horses & mares,--2 Covering jacks & 3 young ones 10 she asses--42 working mules--15 younger ones. 329 head of horned cattle. 640 head of Sheep, & the large stock of hogs, the precise number unknown." He further states that his manager believes the stock worth seven thousand pounds, but he conservatively sets it down at fifteen thousand six hundred fifty-three dollars.